This week, I was the proud recipient of an email from a dude I’ve never met that can best be described as “weird as fuck.” It was over-familiar, inappropriate, and incredibly condescending, all while cloaked in back-handed compliments and way too many details about the writer’s rental car.
But this is what it’s like if you’re a woman whose workplace is the internet: you get a shit-ton of commentary from men you didn’t ask for, didn’t want, and know wouldn’t exist if you were a man yourself. So here is my crash course in “How to talk to women you’ve never met on the internet.” Because maybe not everybody knows. Maybe there’s been a disconnect. Maybe, at some point, there was a class taught by the same man who tried to sell a monorail to Springfield. “Believe me,” he said. “Women want this. Criticize their writing and then, despite never having exchanged words, ask them out.” Maybe it worked in Ogdenville, Brockway, and North Haverbrook. (We’ll never know for sure.)
1. Be cool!
Man, just be cool. Before you decide to reach out to a woman on the internet, just take a breath and ask yourself what would freak you out if the roles were reversed. Then, do not do any of those things. It’s that simple! Just avoid saying and doing anything that would make you, a human person, feel uncomfortable if you were on the receiving end. This includes: avoiding nicknames you’ve decided to coin, over-familiarity, criticisms alongside winking Emojis, invitations for casual coffees or rendezvous, a lot of information about your personal life.
Just. Be. Cool.
2. Ask yourself, “Would I say this to a man?”
Well? Would you? Would you email a strange man whose work you had thoughts on with a landslide of backstory that accompanied an invitation to hang out (with the footnote of “I will take it super personally if you say no”)? Would you email a man and make fun of their tweets or their work after telling them how cute and/or charming you thought they were? Would you nickname them? Would you call a man named “Michael” “Mikey”? You probably wouldn’t. (I hope you wouldn’t.) You would probably just RT whatever piece you liked and move on. At most, you would email to say you like their work and look forward to seeing more of it. The language would be formal and respectful, and you wouldn’t expect a response. You’d be cool. You’d abide by rule number one. It’d be fine and great.
3. Have you stopped to ask, “Who cares?”
The thing about talking to women you do not know is that they genuinely might not care if you think their tweet could be worded better. I know I don’t. I don’t know you. I don’t really care to. It’s weird that you think this is fine. You can just like the tweet or not and move on. It’s 140 characters. Keep your eyes on your own paper.
4. Have you stopped to remember, “Oh wow, some men threaten women on the internet”
Here is the thing about getting an email or message from a man/men we don’t know: past messages from other men have been very scary and now, unless the language is incredibly respectful, we will feel profoundly uncomfortable. So, a shit-ton of @-replies from the same guy that feels entitled to our attention and space is not a great feeling, and neither are @-replies that threaten or insult or reference rape and assault. (Or, as mentioned, long and over-familiar emails.) But it happens! All the time! Which means, despite your good intentions, I will take any email from a stranger with the footnote of “What does this mean and who is this and what does he want.” Thank you for thinking to email! But please remember that history has taught that being a woman on the internet is not fantastic in terms of being harassed or threatened by dudes we have never met or talked to. By default, we are suspicious and you can’t really blame us.
So there you go! It is very simple: be cool, be respectful, email us the way you would email a strange man. It is not a compliment to receive a message that negs our work before parlaying said email into commentary about our appearance or what we should do when we hang out. That is bizarre. Also: super unappealing. Everyone is just trying to get through the day, my dudes. And there’s nothing like an inappropriate/borderline threatening email to remind us that it can be very hard to do that when you’re a woman who works on the internet.